Need help cooking a turkey for your holiday meal?
There's always the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line (1-800-BUTTERBALL), whose experts reportedly assist more than 4 million home cooks every November and December.
Need more help than that?
For a repast as significant as Thanksgiving's -- when a single kitchen mishap can ruin the meal for a houseful of guests -- consider gifting yourself a chef's expertise and letting a Chattanooga-area restaurant do some -- or all -- of the cooking for you.
Whether you need a start-to-finish spread, a plump, juicy turkey for the centerpiece or a pumpkin pie to end the feast, area restaurant owners say they've got you covered. They've been preparing for the holiday season for weeks already.
"We start Thanksgiving on Oct. 1," says Amanda Niel, co-owner of Main Street Meats, referring to the date the annual holiday to-go menu is posted online and the Chattanooga cafe/butcher shop starts accepting orders.
Donald Benton, owner of Dari-Dip, a full-service restaurant in LaFayette, Georgia, says he took certain casseroles off the daily menu in early fall to help him stockpile hard-to-find ingredients that he'll need in large quantities during the holiday season.
"Random ingredients are hard to come by sometimes," he says of supply-chain issues. "It just depends on the week that I order it."
Benton says Dari-Dip doesn't have a reference menu for its holiday specials, preferring to customize each order.
"We work with the individual person," he says. "I have them call all the time and ask how much our Thanksgiving meals are. I can't answer that because we don't have a set price. We work with them individually and see how many people they would like us to do it for and what exactly they want us to do.
"Some people will want us to do everything, from the turkey to the sides to desserts," he says. "Some people will just like us to do the turkey for them and let their family members bring in the side dishes. Other ones, we just do the dressing or green beans or whatever."
At The Bakery, an artisanal, all-natural bakeshop in Collegedale, owner Dante Santana says he, too, prefers one-on-one interaction with customers interested in custom orders of his breads, cakes and pastries. The shop accepts online orders, but telephone orders are often more effective.
"Calling is better," he says. "Even if they order online, there are questions we need to ask depending on what their needs are."
Santana sells a wide assortment of breads to accompany a meal and sweets to end it. Among his specialties are scratch-made sourdough and whole-grain loaves, rolls and buns, cakes, vegan cheesecakes, cookies, pastries and fruit rolls. Carrot cake is a recent addition. For the holiday season, he plans to add pumpkin pie and pumpkin bread to the shelves.
None of his products contain preservatives, additives or artificial flavoring, but he says even non-vegetarians are impressed by his foods' "superior taste." He relates the story of a fellow baker trying to discern the ingredients responsible for the rich taste of his banana bread.
"He asked if I used banana flavoring for my banana bread," Santana recalls. "I said, 'No, I use banana.'"
Tracking customer favorites is helpful for planning holiday menus, the restaurateurs say.
Benton cites Dari-Dip's cornbread dressing, a recipe passed down by his paternal grandmother, as a prime example. It's on the menu "every single day," he says, giving customers a preview of a tried-and-true favorite they can add to their own table with little effort.
The cornbread dressing at Main Street Meats is a customer favorite too, Niel says. Theirs is flavored with house-made bacon.
"People are obsessed with our dressing," Niel says. "And then they love our green beans. We do old-style green beans (seasoned) with ham hock. It's comfort food."
Niel says Thanksgiving is "crazy busy" for Main Street Meats, and many customers order an entire Thanksgiving meal so they can better enjoy the day.
"They usually get everything," she says. "They definitely order their turkey from us, and they most likely order sides because it's more convenient."
For two years of the pandemic, fears and restrictions associated with large gatherings curtailed merrymaking for many families during the winter holidays. This year feels different, Niel says.
"People are kind of getting back into the swing this year," she says.
Instead of ordering for immediate family only, "they're already calling saying, 'I'm going to have 12, 15, 20 people at my house.' That hasn't happened in three years. That's why we ordered more birds this year. We want to accommodate these larger groups."
Niel says the chefs have ordered 240 turkeys for customers' Thanksgiving meals. They're accustomed to working overnight shifts as pickup days approach to have every dish prepared in time.
While most customers adhere to tradition for their Thanksgiving meal -- turkey and trimmings -- they're more willing to vary the menu for Christmas dinner, according to Niel and Benton.
"We'll do more hams for Christmas," Benton says of Dari-Dip. "We do our fair share of hams for Thanksgiving, but turkey is the big thing."
"For Thanksgiving, people always go back to a traditional menu," Niel agrees. "At Christmas they may want whole prime rib or rib-eyes."
If you’ll be ordering part or all of your holiday meal from an area restaurant or specialty food provider, here are five tips to keep in mind.
1. Decide what you need. Do you want only the turkey (or other entree), or will you be ordering sides, breads, drinks and desserts?
2. Know how many you’ll be feeding. Will it be just your immediate family for dinner or a houseful of guests?
3. Determine how much work you want to put in. Especially with sides, you may be able to get a prepared dish that simply needs warming or an uncooked casserole that will need extra time in the oven.
4. Order early. This is the one you really need to follow. Get your order in as early as possible. Deadlines typically range from three to seven days out, but the window to order is usually several weeks in advance. So if you know what you need, order it now.
5. Know your pickup time. Most places will have your dishes available one to two days ahead of the holiday.